Camp Cooking at Conkle Lake

Written by Cameron Bullen, Get Outside BC Coordinator

It’s been a long day. Maybe you hiked through a river valley, kayaked across a lake, or climbed up a mountain (or all three?!). Whatever the adventure, when you’re approaching camp with your nose burnt, your muscles aching, and the sun setting in the distance there is only ever one thing on your mind: food.

For many of us, the food we eat while camping is as fundamental to the experience as the fresh air and mosquito bites. This year’s Get Outside BC at Conkle Lake Provincial Park was no exception. However, with 18 youth from Kelowna and surrounding areas, along with two instructors, there were 20 hungry people to feed. And there was no running water. And a single camp stove. We were camping, after all…

Oh, and did I mention that the youth were doing all the cooking?

The adventure began well before the camp, with the meal planning and the grocery shopping. I think we bought more apples, oranges, and bananas on that one day than I’ve bought in the last year! Fitting the food on the cart was only the first hurdle; getting it all packed into the car was the real challenge. We made it work, but only just.

Like the leadership and event planning skills the Get Outside BC participants were learning this week, cooking for 20 people outside takes some practice. Needless to say, the cooking got off to a rocky start. Dinner on the first night was pasta with tomato sauce and garlic bread. Easy. Right?

It turns out that cutting vegetables for pasta sauce takes a long time, especially when you’re cutting up five bell peppers, three onions, and three zucchinis. This means that if you start the pasta before you finish chopping all the veggies the pasta gets a little too well cooked. And if the pasta happens to be gluten free (like it was on our trip), you end up with some pretty mushy pasta. Thankfully after a long day of travelling and then exploring the campground we were hungry enough to polish it off anyway. This meal was renamed “Pasta Stew” by many of the youth, and became the standard to which all future meals were compared. Luckily, things only got better from there.

Breakfasts and lunches were fairly uneventful, with the most complex ‘cooking’ being boiling water for oatmeal and hot chocolate. We were constantly reminded that cutting up fruit and vegetables for 20 people takes a long time. Every once in a while the instructors would leave their life of luxury (ha!) and help out with the chopping. 

Our Get Outside BC participants were all fast learners. Not only did they pick up paddle boarding and event planning with ease, but by the second dinner they had gotten a hold of the whole group cooking thing.  By working together with their cook teams and planning the cooking in advance, the dinners just got better and better. On the final night the cooking culminated in the biggest and tastiest pot of chilli I have ever seen.

I couldn’t have imagined a better way to spend our final night at Conkle Lake. With our noses sunburnt and our muscles aching, we sat at the picnic tables eating a big bowl of chilli followed by smores (with the marshmallows untoasted because of the fire ban) watching the light slowly leave the lake and valley. All that was left to do was clean the dishes…